DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: My best friend (let’s call her Alpha) and I became friends because we “dated” as kids. Over our preteen and high school years there were a number of times that we starting “dating” on and off many times, and even went on a couple of acutal dates during university.
Despite all of this we were never seriously dating or even got physical in any way, and somehow through it all we ended up becoming extremely good friends. Since that time, I have had a couple of more serious relationships, but generally have found myself extremely unsuccessful in dating, despite a serious relationship being something I’ve always wanted.
This next little bit might seem tangential to the question, but I think its important background for my situation.
I spent a lot of time working on myself, realizing that I was doing something wrong. I started making sure I was taking better care of my body, dressing better, and so on. Most importantly, I’ve been working on being as kind as possible as much as possible (none of us are perfect), and generally being a more supportive person to everyone in my life, whether I was interested in dating them or not. The positive from this is that I made a lot of friends, probably a lot more than most people my age have. But despite being set up with friends-of-friends, talking to a couple of women at bars and having an occasional touch of luck in online dating, I didn’t have any real success with the changes either. With my continued loneliness and a new feeling of hopelessness with respect to self-improvement, I started to feel extremely worthless and at times even suicidal. I recognized this was extremely unhealthy, so I started seeing a psychologist. I continue to fight those feelings today, but I feel they’re important to point out since Alpha was, and is, fully aware of them and their extent.
During the therapy sessions I came to the realization that I had had extremely strong feelings for Alpha for many years. When I confessed these feelings to her, she was very understanding and kind, but she let me know that she did not share those feelings with me. Since then I’ve found myself really struggling to handle our friendship, and knowing everything about her, including her new romantic prospects, and feeling so close to her yet somehow so far. We’ve talked about taking a break from our friendship, but I don’t think either of us handled the possibility very well, and I’m worried if I bring it up again it will end our friendship permanently.
But its been months now and I cannot stop thinking about her, I struggle to be a good friend for her, and I think that despite both of our efforts, I’m becoming a toxic friend towards her, not responding well when she talks about her love life, getting disproportionately offended by friendly teasing and just in general not being there for her in the way that I used to be. I’m also afraid that she won’t say what she needs to say to me, because she knows about my less-than-ideal mental state.
I guess I’m just wondering what to do. We’ve talked about it a lot and she’s extremely understanding, but I don’t honestly know if I can continue our friendship, as its hurting me and I worry that by extension I’m hurting her. What can I do in this situation? I don’t know if I can go on losing my best friend, and I know that she also would be devastated if that happened. I need something to change, but I don’t know what it is. Time isn’t helping, and I feel like as long as we keep sharing absolutely everything about our lives with each other, more time won’t help either.
Any ideas you might have would be appreciated.
Friends Falling Further
DEAR FRIENDS FALLING FURTHER: There’s a good reason why you’re not getting better, FFF: you’re not letting yourself get some distance so your feelings can adjust to the new circumstances on the ground. You’re trying to pretend that nothing has changed and that ain’t working. The context of your relationship with Alpha is entirely different now, which means that your friendship is fundamentally different. It’s understandable that you two are trying to act like nothing has changed, but it has. Specifically, you have. And that means that your friendship has changed too.
The issue the two of you are having is that you’re both trying to pretend like the feelings you have don’t exist, and that just doesn’t work. You’re just constantly hurting yourself by not addressing things, which is leading to resentment and bitterness.
Now what I usually tell people who’re dealing with a broken heart is that they need to get distance. You can’t expect to get the perspective you need on a relationship if it’s always right there up in your grill. But you don’t want to do that; you’re trying to have the exact same relationship you had beforehand. And if you’re not willing to step away for a while — not forever, but for a little while, so that you can adjust and grow and heal — then you need to change your friendship so you’re not constantly being hurt.
So to start with, you’re going to have to set some boundaries, FFF. You’re going to have to tell Alpha that you don’t want to talk about her love life because right now you it hurts you to hear about it. You’re going to have to let her know that some kinds of teasing are just off the table for now. And that’s going to have to go both ways; you can’t just use her as your sounding board for your feels when you can’t bring yourself to listen to her about her relationships.
Now you may have noticed that this means that you and Alpha aren’t going to be as close as you have been. That’s by design; it’s an unfortunate, but necessary change in your relationship. The fact of the matter is that if you’re going to still insist on being this present in each other’s lives, then for the sake of your friendship you’re going to need to dial it back. As you’ve noticed: she’s not saying the things she needs to say, and you’re not being the friend she needs right now. So you’re going to have to accept the different level of friendship for now until you can get over your heartbreak.
But I’m not gonna lie: the longer you’re around her, the longer that’s going to take. Part of the reason why I tell people to take The Nuclear Option of muting, unfriending and unfollowing on all social media when it comes to healing after a heartbreak isn’t because “YOU WON’T LOVE ME AND SO YOU’RE DEAD TO ME”, it’s because you can’t heal when you’re constantly reopening the wound. If seeing her is always going to be a little knife to your heart and a kick to your soul’s nuts, then either you’re going to have to stop seeing her or start recognizing that keeping the wound open is how it gets infected.
And it’s already starting to get infected, chief.
The best choice you have if you want to save this friendship is to put it on pause for a while. You’ve been friends for literally all of your lives together. A friendship that strong can stand a little radio silence. But if you’re going to insist on still being present in each other’s lives, then you’re going to have to make some necessary adjustments to protect both yours heart and your friendship.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)